Where could the flaw in the plan be?

God bless Carole Migden. She is without fear. Yes, she's as political as they come. But more than any other politician I know, she is willing to speak the truth about politics.

After calling blustering Burton, I rang Migden.
So, I asked her, why don't you reintroduce your oversight bill?
"I could," she said. "And I may. But the truth is it would probably be vetoed."

But isn't Gray Davis more likely to listen? He's a Dem like you, I posited, foolishly.

Then Assemblywoman Migden educated me in the nitty-gritty.
"Look, honey, I got 14 out of 20 bills from Wilson. Maybe I will get 15 from Davis."

She was saying that when the rich and powerful want something, the differences between political parties evaporate.

She started listing off all the rich people who pushed for the UCSF-Stanford merger back in 1997.

"Don Fisher is in this," she said referring to the Gap owner and major pro-merger advocate. She rattled off other names as she warmed to her subject: "It's billionaires. All of them. We are fighting billionaires with our little spindly handmade swords."

Then I remembered: When Gray Davis was just lieutenant governor (and therefore, by workings of law, a UC regent), he told SF Weekly why he voted for the merger.

"My thinking on the whole issue was greatly influenced by Warren Hellman's report."

Hellman, one of the richest and most powerful men in California, had written a misleading financial review of the merger, making the argument that UCSF was losing money and needed to merge, when just the opposite was true. And Gray Davis, apparently because it was Hellman, went along without question.

Migden is right. In this regard, Davis is no different than Wilson. In my view, they are both owned (in an arrangement probably very similar to time shares on Hawaiian condos) by guys like Hellman and Fisher and Stein.

As UCSF is run into debt and patient care put at risk, what's at stake is more than just the possible destruction of a public institution. Though that should be enough to make anyone care.

What's most important to focus on is this: The rich and powerful people behind the merger yanked the chain of a sitting governor, and then they yanked on a gubernatorial candidate. Because both men needed the money and support of the rich and powerful they willingly did the bidding of unelected and largely invisible people. And, in the process, did an immensely foolish thing that harmed the public interest.

Now one of these men is governor and lawmakers like Migden and Burton are reluctant to try to correct the mistake, because they know, more than most, that he is owned by a de facto government of "billionaires," to use Migden's term.

Makes you wonder why we have elected government at all.

I know it seems an overly obvious point: The rich and powerful own the government. They are, as a friend of mine says, the permanent government. Elected officials are merely transient functionaries of their will.

So fine, call me naive; the perfectly obvious upsets me. And here's my foolish response: I am hopeful.

This merger is quite the stunning failure. The numbers are as nasty as they get: about $60 million in the red this year; $135 million next year; $100 million the year after that. Entire hospitals, which serve many elderly and indigent patients, might close.

The failed merger is so big it might just overwhelm the structural evils of our political system.

I know for a fact that politicians are meeting on a regular basis trying to figure out what the hell to do. They know if they don't do something, and Mount Zion closes, or worse, they will be flayed by the voters. Doubtless they are still looking for the right thing to do.

I have some advice: Turn on your masters.
Who knows? You might enjoy it.

George Cothran ( can be reached at SF Weekly, 185 Berry, Suite 3800, San Francisco,

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